Why you should let your dog sniff as many lamp posts as they want

Dogs should be allowed to sniff as many lamp posts as they want
Dogs should be allowed to sniff as many lamp posts as they want

Dogs should be allowed to sniff as many lamp posts as they want when out on a walk and not be yanked onwards by bored owners, a canine expert has said.

Walks are often perceived by owners as being solely for exercise and to keep a dog physically fit but veterinarians say they also play a vital role in mental stimulation.

Some dogs, especially as they get older, walk with less vigour and for shorter periods of time, preferring to plod slowly and investigate the scents around them.

This should be embraced by owners, even if it is frustrating, counter-intuitive and boring for the walker, veterinarians believe.

In a talk on how to adapt to living with a geriatric dog at BSAVA Congress 2023, experts spoke about the value of ensuring a dog was still fulfilled, active and stimulated even as its body slows down or it develops age-related health issues, like osteoarthritis.

'Sniffing is really, really important'

“I think you have to make a mental switch when you've got a dog with osteoarthritis; instead of it being you and your mate going out for a really nice walk wherever you want, there has to be some walks that are for the dog," Zoe Belshaw, a veterinary surgeon working on the BSAVA Old Age Pets project, said.

“As most dogs age, they become increasingly motivated to sniff, irrespective of whether or not that's what they wanted to do before. I think it's a massively important part of their quality of life, being able to sniff.

“[Older] dogs don't need to be marching for the whole ten minutes of a walk.

“If you have ten minutes and they go ten metres but spend nine and a half minutes sniffing a lamp post; for that dog that is probably so much better than you trying to drag it around a circular walk around the block.

“Sniffing is really, really important. You just have to reframe what the point of that walk is so that you don't get driven berserk by the fact that you've been standing by a lamp post for nine and a half minutes.

“Vets should tell [owners] to get a podcast or do something that makes the time go by to make it not frustrating for them because you see so many dogs being yanked because the owner thinks either the walk is for the dog and it needs to move, or because they themselves are so fed up of the sniffing - but embracing the “sniffari” is really important.”

Other adaptations people can make to ensure life is as easy as possible for an ageing dog include putting down soft, grippy mats to stop them falling over; playing in different ways; feeding them in an innovative manner; and not changing their home environment too much.

'We need to modify how people play with their pets'

Emily Cowderoy, a veterinarian physiotherapist at the Royal Veterinary College, said fetch is often no longer suitable for dogs with mobility issues.

“A lot of times I am asking owners to stop certain games they are doing with patients,” she said. “But that doesn't mean we are taking all the fun out of life, it just means we need to modify how people play with their pets.

“The big thing from an arthritis point of view is going to be ball throwers or slingers but rolling the toy to them and playing hide and seek, something much lower activity, is also fine and gets them involved.”

For dogs suffering cognitive decline, or the loss of sight or hearing, using their sense of smell is key. For example, hiding food in various places to challenge the dog to extract it itself as a form of brain training can not only be fun for the dog, but help keep their mind active.

Speaking about caring for her own elderly dog, Ms Belshaw said: “I used to put food in a cereal box and he shredded the box before he got his food out. Literally, just finding ways to stimulate his brain because we couldn't go for those long walks.

“Snuffle mats are another really good thing for older dogs, so are hide and seek and licky mats. Slowing down how they get treats is really good, even if it is toilet rolls or cereal boxes.”